Politics

Senior Trump admin official Mina Chang resigns after embellishing resume

Dan De Luce, Laura Strickler and Ari Sen
Mina Chang at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, New York, November 17, 2017.
EuropaNewswire | Gado | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Senior Trump administration official Mina Chang resigned from her job at the State Department two and a half hours after NBC News went to her spokesperson to ask about newly discovered false claims she had made about her charity work.

NBC News had previously reported that Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, had embellished her resume with misleading claims about her educational achievements and the scope of her nonprofit's work — even posting a fake cover of Time magazine with her face on it.

"It is essential that my resignation be seen as a protest and not as surrender because I will not surrender my commitment to serve, my fidelity to the truth, or my love of country," Chang wrote in her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "Indeed, I intend to fight for those things as a citizen in the days and years to come."

Chang said she had been "unfairly maligned, unprotected by my superiors, and exposed to a media with an insatiable desire for gossip and scandal, genuine or otherwise."

NBC News had reported that Chang, who assumed her post in April, invented a role on a United Nations panel, claimed she had addressed both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions, and implied she had testified before Congress.

She was being considered for an even bigger government job, one with a budget of more than $1 billion, until Congress started asking questions about her resume.

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The newly discovered false claims include misrepresenting a trip to Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission, listing an academic who says he never worked for her nonprofit as an employee, claiming a nonexistent degree from the University of Hawaii, inflating an award and claiming to be an "ambassador" for the United Nations' cultural agency UNESCO.

Chang had portrayed the 2015 trip to Afghanistan as a humanitarian mission for her nonprofit, but a defense contractor footed the bill and no aid was delivered, according to documents from the company and a former employee.

After the Afghanistan trip, Chang posted photos of herself meeting a group of Afghan women in a room. In a video posted on her charity's website, she refers to the photo and says the Afghan women are "in hiding" at a secret location.

"This is in Afghanistan, I am sitting with women in our program, they are living in hiding. I can only say they are right outside of the Kabul area," Chang said in an interview posted on her nonprofit's website.

But the women were not part of any program run by her charity, Linking the World. They were wives of local employees of the defense contractor that paid for her trip, Automotive Management Services, and they were not in hiding, a former employee said.

"They were photo-ops," the former employee said of Chang's trip to Afghanistan and another to Iraq.

Company documents obtained by NBC News show Chang was asked to help the firm manage an association of Afghan wives, whose spouses worked for the company. The plan would free up AMS to "focus on our commercial prospects," according to a document outlining the project. AMS, which helped Afghan security forces maintain a fleet of armored vehicles, paid for Chang's airfare and accommodation, according to documents and the former employees.

On her charity's website, Chang posted photos from the Afghanistan trip, without indicating that the defense contractor bankrolled the visit and that her NGO conducted no aid work during the trip.

In an email to NBC News, Chang said her organization was helping the defense contractor "create shared value" in Afghanistan. "Our work was not 'humanitarian aid,' it was to help a company with critical presence on the ground incorporate [creating shared value] into their business model."

Chang also continued to claim the women were "in hiding," saying "it's irresponsible for anyone to share someone's identity who says they're hiding from the Taliban." However, the pictures of the women Chang shared with an interviewer show the women's faces.

Ian Dailey, Linking the World's chief of staff, did not respond to a request for comment about the AMS sponsorship of Chang's trip to Afghanistan.

The data scientist

In promotional material for Linking the World, under the heading "Who We Are," the group lists a "chief data scientist," Michel Leonard, an adjunct professor at New York University and Columbia University.

But Leonard told NBC News that "I was never an employee of this organization." He said he had never seen the document touting his expertise, didn't initially recognize the name of the charity and performed no work for it.

Dailey of Linking the World told NBC News in an email, "Linking the World is a volunteer-based organization, so no persons addressed on our site were employees. At the time, Mr. Leonard was employed by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), and I was personally working with him on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two organizations, to share data, skills and analyzes (sic). However, Mr. Leonard left USIP before that MOU was completed."

In her email to NBC News, Chang also said that Leonard was a volunteer like other advisers.

In numerous bios, including one when she was a fellow at the New America think tank in Washington, Chang said she had served as a "cross cultural ambassador" for UNESCO.

But Chang does not appear on a list of ambassadors for UNESCO. Spokesman Roni Amelan said the organization does not have a "cross-cultural ambassador" category.

Chang told NBC she was named cross-cultural ambassador at a club promoting UNESCO's work at Sorbonne University in France in 2015. Her bios did not mention the title was conferred by a university club rather than UNESCO itself.

Chang has cited winning a "CBS Humanitarian of the Year Women That Soar" award in 2012. In fact, it was a local award in Dallas and the event was broadcast by a local CBS affiliate.

"It's not a CBS award. It aired on a CBS station," said Lori Conrad, market communications director for the CBS Corporation.

A spokesperson for the Women That Soar event did not respond to a request for comment but Chang's bio has been removed from the organization's website.

In a profile published in 2012 with DFWChild, a Dallas publication, Chang is described as having earned a degree in international development from the University of Hawaii.

A University of Hawaii spokesperson says they do not have a Mina Chang of her age in their records, and that the university does not offer a "degree in international development."

The magazine Monday published an editor's note, saying the article was based on false information from Chang.

"As other falsehoods and misleading statements come to light, we've made the decision to preserve the text as it was originally published in May 2012. We stand by our reporting at the time, and we want this article to serve as a snapshot of the narrative Ms. Chang promoted then."

Chang denies that she exaggerated her resume or the extent of her charity's work.

In a statement issued through a spokesman, Chang said that she had been vetted by the FBI and the State Department's diplomatic security service for her current job as well as the post she was nominated for at USAID and received a "top-secret" security clearance.

After the NBC report last week, the State Department reviewed her application materials again and found she had "in no way misled officials during the investigation," Chang's statement said.

The State Department has declined to comment on her case.

Chang was not allowed by the State Department to respond to NBC News' requests for comment before the report was published last week, her statement said.

Chang insisted it was her decision to withdraw her nomination in September for a senior post at USAID. "She voluntarily elected to withdraw her nomination because after working with her team at the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, she became excited by the team's talent and potential and the impact they could have together," the statement said.

As for the fake Time magazine cover, "Ms. Chang was not responsible for the creation of the Time magazine cover, nor promoted it," the statement said.

NBC discovered the fake TIME cover from watching a video that was posted on her charity website.